Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Can we meet? Can we find ways to work together?

I was getting ready to send this email to a person that I respect as a community organizer. I decided to post it as an open invitation to anyone who would like to work with the Tutor/Mentor Connection.

Can we meet again soon to talk about next step strategies?

There are many people collecting information that shows how youth and young adults in low income areas are at a disadvantage in moving through school and into jobs/careers. Some have better contacts than others, some have better strategies, and some have better funding. Few do all three.

I've been aggregating information and web links at and These show the connection between different advocates. While the T/MC Leadership Conferences and eConfereces draw a growing number of people together, I don't have the clout (or skills, and money) to draw many of these different people together on a consistent basis to talk of ways to work together on key points.

You might have the facilitation or marketing ability to do this.

I attended a Welfare Symposium in Chicago in late April, co-hosted by Jerome Stermer of Voices 4 Illinois Children. More than 200 people were there, including a few dignitaries. I attended a dinner hosted by the Academic Development Institute. Dr. James Comer was the speaker and nearly 100 people attended. I attended a breakfast hosted by Jack Wuest of the Alternative Schools Network. More than 200 people attended, along with Emil Jones, Arnie Duncan and other state leaders. I updated my organization's information at this morning. I also put the next meetings of the Illinois College and Career Access Network, the Illinois Afterschool Alliance, and the Chicago Coalition for Community Schools on my calendar.

It seems that almost every week someone is gathering a group of people to talk about some part of the problem of helping disadvantaged kids move through school and into jobs/careers.

There's an overlap of who attends these meetings. It's a small fraternity of people who care and are active in trying to make things better for disadvantaged communities. However too few people are involved and there's a common void. Too few business leaders are at these meetings or strategically engaged in the mission of these organizations.

There's also a strategic void. Each meeting focuses on the agenda of each organizer and few use maps of Chicago or Illinois to point to where the problem is as part of a strategy of drawing private and public sector resources on a more consistent basis to organizations in poverty neighborhoods who are already working to help kids move to careers. That's because few organizations are maintaining such databases or mapping the information for purposes of drawing volunteers, dollars, leaders, business partners, etc. directly to existing organizations.

In aggregating this information on T/MC web sites I'm trying to fill this void. However, the common challenge we all face is not enough people are paying attention. When I look at the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times, the few stories that draw attention to the challenges poor neighborhoods have of raising kids are not connected to each other, nor to the web sites and the meetings each group holds. there does not seem to be a strategy that connects news and commentary to web sites where people can get information and get involved.

That means each gathering only reaches a few of all of the people who need to be reached on an on-going basis. We're not increasing the size of this army of concerned citizens fast enough to change the future for kids entering first grade next fall.

Only by linking our strategies, our meetings, and our strengths can we create a larger on-going visibility that will not only draw immediate resources (volunteers, dollars) to all of the organizations who need a consistent flow of dollars to build stability and constant improvement into their work, but will also increase the size of the choir of people who are needed to influence public policy and public funding on the state or national level.

I may might not be the best person to do the inviting or to facilitate a meeting of all of these people. The T/MC is too small and it's underfunded. We don't have the clout or money to rent out Chicago's Union League Club for a fancy breakfast, or to attract a panel of high profile leaders. I don't need to be that leader if I can find ways where others take that role, and where others link their meetings to on-line forums and to a network of web sites that provide paths of involvement and lead to a distribution of resources DOWN to agencies doing the work in every neighborhood where kids need extra help.

I hope that anyone who reads this will forward it to a few other people who might want to take a lead, or support the work the T/MC is doing. Maybe you can help us find ways we can generate new funding so that the Tutor/Mentor Connection can continue to provide a linkage between various organizations via what we do on our web sites and the way we are piloting the use of a GIS to show the connections between groups, ideas and advocacy.

You can email me at if you'd like to talk.


Michael said...

i hear a lot of networks overlapping in this, dan, but can't quite hear a statement of a central theme or task or purpose that might serve to link them all. wondering if you might be able to name/shop/test that theme and if we couldn't organize a day or two in open space this august while i'm back again from london. the group could be large or small, the venue could be available for free. i'd work at some kind of mutual donation rate, i give my work and participants make small gifts to a facilitation fund. if the few paragraphs of invite went out to the groups you're talking about here, then the whole invite process could be free. and lunch could be on our own in the neighborhood. recall that three days at depaul's egan center ran something like $30 per head. any interest? any theme/purpose statement spring to mind?

Tutor Mentor Connections said...

How about this: Connecting the dots: the world's biggest pingpong table.

Imagine a table filled with ping pong balls. Everytime one ball moves it causes a chain reaction and every other ball moves.

If everyone who holds a meeting, or gets in the news, or gathers two or three people together to reflect on a problem or opportunity is intentionally connecting into a network of others who share the same goals, then this chain reation can stretch around the world in wave after wave of inspiration, information, motivation, etc.

However, if those who hold meetings do not link their meetings to larger networks in an intentional process, it's a smaller table that reaches fewer people.

Why should we link? What are the benefits? What technology could be used? Who should be included?

If this open space could be held in late August it could impact volunteer recruitment in tutor/mentor programs all over Chicago and in other cities.